Get the Athlon Sports Newsletter
There were 23 college football coaching changes - which one ranked as the best?
By Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch on Twitter)
The carousel was quite active in the offseason, with 23 coaching positions — 19.2 percent of all FBS schools — changing hands. And not only was the amount of turnover high, but there are some major programs under new leadership — Florida, Miami (Fla.) and Michigan. The following is our take on the new coaches for 2011 — with a new twist. This year, we’ve ranked the hires from best to worst.
1. Jerry Kill, Minnesota
Previous Job: Head coach, Northern Illinois
Pros: Kill has done a tremendous job in four previous stops as a head coach, most notably at Southern Illinois (five straight FCS playoff appearances) and Northern Illinois (18–6 MAC record and three bowl games).
Cons: Despite his outstanding track record, Kill is far from a household name in the college football world. It shouldn’t matter, but some fans aren’t satisfied unless their school hires a big-name coach.
Final Analysis: We were on board with Northern Illinois’ decision to hire Kill three years ago — “This is a great hire … (and) there is no reason to believe that Kill will not have this program competing for a MAC title on an annual basis.” Ditto for Minnesota. Kill might not have the Gophers in the hunt for a league crown any time soon — that’s a very tall order — but Minnesota will be relevant in the Big Ten once again.
2. Al Golden, Miami (Fla.)
Previous Job: Head coach, Temple
Pros: Golden accomplished the impossible, turning Temple into a winning football program. The Owls won a total of four games in the three years prior to his arrival and had not won more than three games in any single season in the previous 15 seasons. Golden had Temple competitive by his second year (4–8) and in a bowl game in his fourth season. Temple’s 17 wins the past two seasons are tied for the best two-year stretch in school history.
Cons: Golden won 27 games in five seasons at Temple, but only three of those wins came against FBS teams that ended the season with a winning record.
Final Analysis: Some Golden detractors point to the above stat in an attempt to minimize his accomplishments at Temple. That is a mistake. The guy did a phenomenal job resuscitating what was the worst FBS program in the nation. He might not be the flashiest coach in the nation, but if he can build a winner at Temple — with limited resources and absolutely no name brand outside of the city of Philadelphia — he should be able to return Miami to national prominence.
3. Mark Hudspeth, Louisiana-Lafayette
Previous Job: Wide receivers coach, Mississippi State
Pros: Hudspeth enjoyed a highly successful seven-year run (2002-08) as the head coach at North Alabama, compiling a 66–20 record and advancing to the Division II playoffs five times. He is a Mississippi native who has spent the majority of his coaching career in the deep South. He is an outstanding recruiter, and he did a great job putting together a very good class at ULL after taking over in December.
Final Analysis: Hudspeth is a great fit at Louisiana-Lafayette. He has a proven track record as a head coach, and he played a big part in Dan Mullen’s rebuilding job at Mississippi State the past two seasons. The Ragin’ Cajuns, who have made a commitment to the program, will be a Sun Belt contender in the near future.
4. Will Muschamp, Florida
Previous Job: Defensive coordinator, head coach-in-waiting, Texas
Pros: Muschamp has been one of the most highly respected defensive coordinators over the past decade and has coached under some of the best in the game. He is young (40 on opening day) and brings a ton of energy.
Cons: None, other than a lack of experience as a head coach on any level. It didn’t go too well the last time Florida hired someone without head coaching experience. Remember Ron Zook?
Final Analysis: Muschamp, an SEC grad (Georgia) who has coached at two other SEC schools (LSU, Auburn), is a tremendous fit at Florida. It will be a major surprise if he doesn’t win at a high level in Gainesville.
5. Pete Lembo, Ball State
Previous Job: Head coach, Elon
Pros: Lembo has been successful in two previous stops as a head coach, compiling a 44–14 record in five seasons at Lehigh and a 35–22 record in five seasons at Elon. He’s had a winning conference record in nine of his 10 seasons as a head coach.
Cons: Lembo has never coached in the Division I ranks and has spent his entire career on the Eastern Seaboard.
Final Analysis: There have been 12 head coaching vacancies in the MAC in the past three offseasons. This is the only one that has been filled by a head coach from the FCS ranks. The last school to go this route was Northern Illinois, which lured Jerry Kill away from Southern Illinois in 2008. That worked out quite well; Kill went 18–6 in league play in his three seasons before bolting for Minnesota. Don’t be surprised if Lembo experiences similar success. He has won at every stop.
6. Hugh Freeze, Arkansas State
Previous Job: Offensive coordinator, Arkansas State
Pros: Freeze did an outstanding job in his only season as the Red Wolves’ offensive coordinator. Despite the loss of a four-year starter at quarterback and a three-time 1,000-yard rusher in the backfield, Arkansas State’s production improved from 328.8 yards and 22.7 points per game in ’09 to 403.4 and 30.0 in ’10. He was also successful (20–5) in his two-year stint as the head coach at Lambuth College, an NAIA school in Jackson, Tenn.
Cons: Not many. Freeze has spent only three years in Division I football, two with Ole Miss (2006-07) and one at Arkansas State (2010).
Final Analysis: Freeze might be known best as Michael Oher’s high school coach in Memphis, but the guy has an outstanding track record — both as a head coach and coordinator — since making the move to the collegiate ranks. This is an outstanding hire for an Arkansas State program that hasn’t been quite able to break through in the Sun Belt.
7. Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia
Previous Job: Offensive Coordinator, Oklahoma State
Pros: Holgorsen is as close of a sure thing as you can get as a play-caller. In his lone season as the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State, the Cowboys ranked third in the nation in both scoring offense and total offense. Prior to that, his two Houston teams ranked first in both categories in 2009 and second in total offense and 10th in scoring offense in ’08.
Cons: Holgorsen has some baggage. He has run into some off-the-field issues since arriving in Morgantown. It’s one thing to enjoy the night life as an assistant coach (or even head coach-in-waiting), but you have to change your lifestyle when you are the man in charge.
Final Analysis: A very awkward 2011 season with Holgorsen serving as WVU’s head coach-in-waiting was avoided when Bill Stewart was forced to step down over the summer. Holgorsen is now the boss, and he will be expected to produce immediately. He comes with some risk — never been a head coach and he allegedly really enjoys frosty cold beverages — but it is a risk worth taking for West Virginia. He will win a ton of games in Morgantown and will do so in entertaining fashion.
8. Brady Hoke, Michigan
Previous Job: Head coach, San Diego State
Pros: Hoke is an experienced head coach who has won at two different schools, taking Ball State to the 2008 MAC title game and becoming the first coach to win a bowl game at San Diego State since 1969. He is a Midwestern guy — native of Kettering, Ohio — who served on the Michigan staff for eight years (1995-02).
Cons: For all of his perceived success, Hoke has a losing record (47–50) as a head coach and has won more than seven games only twice.
Final Analysis: Some Michigan fans craved a bigger name, but Michigan didn’t need a big name — it needed a good coach. And that is what it got with Hoke. Jim Harbaugh would have been a great hire, but the Wolverines — both players and fans — would have had to deal with the annual “Will he bolt for the NFL?” rumors. Hoke, on the other hand, isn’t going anywhere. He is a coach who should unite the fractured fan base.
9. Todd Graham, Pittsburgh
Previous Job: Head coach, Tulsa
Pros: Graham has done very well in his two stops as a head coach, taking Rice to its first bowl game in 45 years and winning at least 10 games in three of his four seasons at Tulsa. He has a 20–10 record in Conference USA regular-season games. And while Graham’s background is in defense, his teams have been highly entertaining on offense.
Cons: Graham isn’t the most well-liked man in coaching.
Final Analysis: Graham can be a bit abrasive, but he has a solid résumé, as both as a defensive coordinator and a head coach. And his teams have been exciting to watch — something that was not always the case in the previous regime. Graham should do well at Pittsburgh.
10. Dan McCarney, North Texas
Previous Job: Defensive line coach, Florida
Pros: McCarney has 12 years of experience as a head coach, serving as the boss at Iowa State from 1995-2006. His overall record (56–85) is poor, and he went 27–68 in the Big Eight/Big 12, but he enjoyed a nice six-year window in which the Cyclones won at least seven games five times.
Cons: Some might point to his record as a head coach, but it’s not easy to win at Iowa State. He inherited a program that went 0–10–1 the season prior to his arrival. Also, McCarney’s age could be an issue; he will be 58 when the season rolls around.
Final Analysis: McCarney is well-respected in coaching circles. He is lauded for the job he did at Iowa State, and he did a great job tutoring the defensive linemen at Florida the past three seasons. This is a good hire for a school that has no excuse not to be successful in the Sun Belt Conference.
11. Kevin Wilson, Indiana
Previous Job: Offensive coordinator, Oklahoma
Pros: Wilson has won at a high level as an assistant coach, earning one Big Ten title at Northwestern and six Big 12 titles at Oklahoma. His offenses at Oklahoma in recent years were among the best in school history.
Cons: None, other than his lack of experience as a head coach.
Final Analysis: Wilson is the right hire at the right time for Indiana. He has been one of the most attractive head coaching candidates in recent years, due in large part to his outstanding work running the OU offense. He will bring a swagger to the Indiana program and should have the Hoosiers in bowl games on a consistent basis in the near future.
12. James Franklin, Vanderbilt
Previous Job: Offensive coordinator, head coach-in-waiting, Maryland
Pros: Franklin, regarded as an outstanding recruiter, is a high-energy coach who will inject some much-need enthusiasm into the Vanderbilt program. He has experience in the NFL (2005, Green Bay) and served as offensive coordinator for a total of five seasons at two different BCS conference schools (Kansas State, Maryland).
Cons: Franklin’s offenses at Maryland weren’t the most explosive, ranking 80th in the nation in 2010, 102nd in ’09 and 68th in ’08. He has no experience, on any level, as a head coach, and he wasn’t the school’s first choice for the job.
Final Analysis: The Vanderbilt administration turned to Franklin after Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn backed out following a lengthy courtship. Franklin isn’t concerned that he was second on the depth chart. He has embraced the many challenges at Vanderbilt, and he has assembled a staff of young and hungry coaches who share his vision. Most believe it’s almost impossible to win consistently at Vanderbilt. Franklin isn’t among them.
13. Don Treadwell, Miami (Ohio)
Previous Job: Offensive coordinator, Michigan State
Pros: Treadwell is a Miami alum (’82) who has been a successful and respected coordinator at two BCS conference schools for the past seven seasons. He has worked for three outstanding head coaches — Jim Tressel at Youngstown State, Tom O’Brien at Boston College and Mark Dantonio at Cincinnati and Michigan State.
Cons: Treadwell has no head coaching experience (other than his two games as the interim boss at Michigan State this past season following Dantonio’s heart attack).
Final Analysis: Treadwell became a hot name in the coaching circles in recent seasons. He was a finalist at Vanderbilt this offseason before being hired at his alma mater in late December. He should be the next in a long line of successful head coaches at Miami.
14. David Shaw, Stanford
Previous Job: Offensive coordinator, Stanford
Pros: Shaw played a key part in Stanford’s renaissance, serving as Jim Harbaugh’s offensive coordinator from 2007-10. He is a Stanford alum — which will help him recruit to the school — and he also has nine years of experience as an assistant in the NFL.
Cons: While Shaw had the title of offensive coordinator, the Cardinal attack was directed more by Harbaugh and Greg Roman, the associate head coach.
Final Analysis: Shaw has had one goal since graduating college — to be the head coach at his alma mater. Well, that goal has been attained. But he’s in a tough spot. Harbaugh reached legendary status after leading Stanford to a top-5 ranking and a victory in a BCS bowl game. The Cardinal faithful will expect Shaw to keep their team at the top of the Pac-12 food chain.
15. Dave Doeren, Northern Illinois
Previous Job: Defensive coordinator, Wisconsin
Pros: Doeren’s defenses at Wisconsin ranked in the top 40 in the nation in each of his five seasons, highlighted by top-20 rankings in 2006, ’09 and ’10. He is young (39 on opening day) and is regarded as a solid recruiter. He did very well recruiting the state of Florida for the Badgers.
Cons: It’s always tough to evaluate a defensive coordinator when the head coach of the program (Bret Bielema in this case) has a defensive background. Who was the real architect of the UW defense?
Final Analysis: Northern Illinois nailed its previous two hires, with Joe Novak in 1996 and Jerry Kill in 2008. Doeren doesn’t have Kill’s track record as a head coach, but this looks like another solid decision by the NIU administration.
16. Randy Edsall, Maryland
Previous Job: Head coach, UConn
Pros: Edsall did a solid job guiding the Huskies from the Division I-AA ranks to Division I-A Independent status to a full-fledged member of the Big East. He won at least eight games in each of his last four seasons and tied for the Big East title in 2007 and ’10.
Cons: Edsall’s teams didn’t exactly play the most exciting brand of football, ranking 57th or worse in total offense in each of the past five seasons. The Huskies had a winning record in Big East play only twice in their seven seasons in the league.
Final Analysis: This is a curious hire. No one doubts that Edsall is a solid football coach, but he seems to be a strange fit at Maryland. Athletic director Kevin Anderson fired Ralph Friedgen — the 2010 ACC Coach of the Year — in part due to lagging ticket sales and a general lack of enthusiasm for the football program from the fanbase. So what does he do? He hires a younger, and arguably less exciting, version of Friedgen. Strange move.
17. Darrell Hazell, Kent State
Previous Job: Assistant head coach, wide receivers coach, Ohio State
Pros: Hazell has been a key member of the Ohio State coaching staff over the last seven seasons. He tutored some outstanding wide receivers and is regarded as a top-flight recruiter.
Cons: Hazell has never been a head coach or a coordinator in the FBS ranks.
Final Analysis: It’s always a gamble when you hire a position coach to serve as the CEO of your program, but Hazell looks like a solid gamble. He should be able to recruit relatively well, and he learned from one of the best in the business in Ohio State boss Jim Tressel.
18. Luke Fickell, Ohio State
Previous Job: Linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator, Ohio State
Pros: Fickell is a former player and longtime Buckeye assistant (2002-10) who knows this program as well as anyone. He is very popular with the fans and respected by the current players.
Cons: There is nothing on Fickell’s resume that has prepared him for being a head coach at an elite program in a time of crises. We don’t know how he will react to such an enormous task.
Final Analysis: Fickell has one season to prove he is the long-term solution at Ohio State. The odds are against him — even with his strong ties to the school. Ohio State is one of the elite coaching positions in college football, and the school will likely search for a proven winner to take over in 2012.
19. Steve Addazio, Temple
Previous Job: Offensive coordinator, Florida
Pros: Addazio spent six seasons working for Urban Meyer at Florida. The Gators went 65–15 during that span and won two national titles.
Cons: The Florida offense struggled mightily in Addazio’s only season as the offensive coordinator without Tim Tebow. The Gators ranked 82nd in the nation in total yards in 2010 with an average of 350.9 yards per game. The results weren’t very good in his previous stint as an offensive coordinator, either. From 2002-04 at Indiana, the Hoosiers averaged 368.2, 321.8 and 320.5 yards per game.
Final Analysis: Al Golden did the heavy lifting at Temple, guiding the Owls from one of the worst programs in the nation to one of the top teams in the MAC. Maintaining that level will be Addazio’s task. He may end up being a great hire for Temple, but there isn’t much on his résumé — besides his affiliation with Meyer — to get excited about.
20. Rocky Long, San Diego State
Previous Job: Defensive coordinator, San Diego State
Pros: Long has 11 years of experience as a head coach, all at his alma mater, New Mexico. He has a losing overall record (65–69), but he had one stretch of seven seasons with six or more wins, and he compiled a 40–34 record in MWC games. He is also a highly respected defensive coach.
Cons: Long turned 61 in January and will be the oldest coach in the Mountain West. His desire to lead a program has to be questioned after he walked away from his job at New Mexico in 2008.
Final Analysis: Brady Hoke was in the process of waking the sleeping giant that is San Diego State football when he bolted for Michigan. Is Long the man who can keep the ball rolling in the right direction? We’ll find out, but this is far from the most inspiring hire. When Hoke left for San Diego State two years ago, Ball State hired from within and promoted offensive coordinator Stan Parrish, 62 at the time, to head coach. Parrish was fired after going 6–18 in his two full seasons. The Aztec faithful are hoping Hoke’s replacement enjoys more success this time around.
21. Paul Pasqualoni, Connecticut
Previous Job: Defensive Coordinator, Dallas Cowboys
Pros: Pasqualoni enjoyed a highly successful 14-year run at Syracuse, compiling an overall record of 107–59–1 and a Big East mark of 73–34 from 1991-04. The Orangemen (as they were called at the time), went to nine bowl games and finished nationally ranked seven times during that span.
Cons: Pasqualoni will turn 62 during preseason camp; only 11 FBS head coaches are older, and all but two were younger when hired at their current jobs. Pasqualoni also has not coached in the college ranks since 2004.
Final Analysis: Randy Edsall did a great job at UConn, but he was far from the most exciting coach. His replacement is Pasqualoni, who might be even less exciting. There is no doubt that the guy can coach, but this is not a hire that will resonate with the casual fan or, more important, with recruits.
22. Jon Embree, Colorado
Previous Job: Tight Ends coach, Washington Redskins
Pros: Embree is a Colorado native and a CU grad who spent 10 years as an assistant (under three coaches) at the school. He has played and coached in the NFL.
Cons: Other than two seasons as the passing game coordinator at UCLA (2004-05), Embree has never been more than a position coach in any of his coaching stops.
Final Analysis: Colorado reportedly made overtures toward Les Miles from LSU and Troy Calhoun from Air Force before hiring one of its own. Embree comes without a high salary — which is good for the cash-strapped CU athletic department — but he also comes without a proven track record. This is far from the most exciting hire of the offseason.
23. Bill Blankenship, Tulsa
Previous Job: Running backs coach, Tulsa
Pros: Blankenship is an Oklahoma native and a Tulsa alum, having served as the Golden Hurricane’s starting quarterback in 1977 and ’79.
Cons: Blankenship has spent all but the past four years of his 26-year coaching career in the high school ranks. His experience in the collegiate ranks consists of four seasons as a position coach at Tulsa.
Final Analysis: This is reminiscent of the early 2000s, when Buzz Peterson became the latest coach to bolt Tulsa’s men’s basketball program for what was perceived to be a better job. At the time, Tulsa promoted John Phillips to head coach. He was fired after three-plus seasons. Phillips, like Blankenship, had been a long-time head coach before jumping to the collegiate ranks as an assistant coach at Tulsa. This is a different sport and a different time. Tulsa is hoping for a different result.